Some people say Mike, coworker and a friend of mine, is a strange guy. Mike is a Lead Developer in our company. And he has deep pockets. But when you see Mike, you probably take him as a very poor and unfortunate person. Thousand-year old Levi’s jeans, noname T-shirt, long-time-ago-black-but-now-gray sneakers. Yeap, that’s Mike.
Mike is the one who spends 30% of his incomes on various charity programs. Almost every weekend Mike takes part in organizing free breakfasts for poor people.
Once we had a very important, almost life-changing meeting. Mike was one of the key speakers. And he was running late. The whole team was sitting there in the meeting room and looked ridiculous trying to keep potential investors interested in our start-up project. Imagine our faces when later we found out that Mike was late because he had been rescuing a homeless kitty stuck in the tree.
‘Hah, Mike is a good man!’, comes in reader's mind.
A-a-and action! Stop right there.
Or better this way?
Mike works as a developer. He is rich. He helps poor people. Once he had rescued a cat. Mike is a good man.
Sometimes, instead of showing a character in the context, writers begin to describe them. ‘Mike was a ____ (choose an adjective) man.’ ‘Glad for him,’ thinks a reader and forgets the whole thing.
The point is, why do some companies continue to use only lushy adjectives and dry, boring facts if there are other ways to tell about your values, products, projects, and the whole brand?
Why your brand needs a storyteller
As you know, in the world of web, content drives commerce. And storytelling is one of the main components of a content marketing approach and is increasingly used to build customer loyalty.
Brand storytelling isn't something extra new. Marketers have been telling brand stories for ages through different types of advertising. But when social media arose and content marketing became the king, telling stories as part of direct and indirect brand marketing have become a strategic task. The best results come when a web agency teams up with the client and brands’ marketers to create branded, digital-first content together.
According to Giles Lury, Executive Chairman at The Value Engineers, storytelling echoes the deeply rooted need of all humans to be entertained. Stories are illustrative, easier to remember, and have a stronger impact. Plus, stories are a social capital. In his book ‘Contagious: Why Things Catch On,’ Jonah Berger, Professor of Marketing in Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, defines a possibility to share as one of the key features of content that can become viral.
A Nielsen study shows consumers want a more personal connection in the way they gather information. Our brains are far more engaged by storytelling than by cold, hard facts. When reading straight data, only the language parts of our brains work to decode the meaning. But when we read a story, not only do the language parts of our brains light up, but any other part of the brain that we would use if we were actually experiencing what we're reading about becomes activated as well. This means our brains are tooled for stories. Content brings brand stories forward and when an audience engage with original branded content, they engage with a brand.
Let’s take a closer look at some storytelling-based brands and explore their stories.
Long story short: A tiny camera to create and share breathtaking videos with your family and friends.
In a letter from GoPro founder and CEO Nicholas Woodman on the official GoPro site, he writes, ‘GoPro helps people capture and share their lives’ most meaningful experiences with others — to celebrate them together. Like how a day on the mountain with friends is more meaningful than one spent alone, the sharing of our collective experiences makes our lives more fun. The world’s most versatile cameras are what we make. Enabling you to share your life through incredible photos and videos is what we do.’
The founder was motivated by a 2002 surfing trip to Australia in which he was striving to capture quality action photos, but could not because amateur photographers could not get close enough or buy quality equipment at reasonable prices.
What began as an idea to help athletes document themselves, GoPro has “become a standard for how people capture themselves engaged in their interests, whatever they may be.”
GoPro does not promote cameras. GoPro enables customers to capture and share their passion in the form of immersive and engaging content. And then GoPro shares users’ stories to show what their camera can do.
Long story short: Tap a button, get a ride.
What started as an app to request premium black cars in a few metropolitan areas has changed the way the world moves. Whether it’s a ride, sandwich, or package, Uber uses technology to give people what they want when they want it. “By seamlessly connecting riders to drivers through our apps, we make cities more accessible, opening up more possibilities for riders and more business for drivers,” the brand story says.
Uber has been one of the pioneers in the sharing economy. As a rebellious taxi alternative, Uber has redefined transportation. Across borders, cultures, and languages, Uber connects people who need a reliable ride with people looking to earn money driving their car. For the women and men, Uber represents a flexible new way to earn money. For cities, Uber helps strengthen local economies, improve access to transportation, and make streets safer.
Long story short: Please come in and make yourself at home.
Airbnb is a trusted online marketplace and hospitality service, enabling people to rent short-term lodging like vacation rentals, apartment rentals, homestays, hostel beds, or hotel rooms all around the world. As the brand story says, Airbnb offers to book unique homes, experience a city like a local, and receive unique travel impressions.
Next to Uber, Airbnb has been one of the pioneers in the sharing economy. Airbnb has challenged the hotel industry and totally redefined an experience. Now people can easily monetize their extra space and meet travelers from different countries. Available in more than 65,000 cities and 191 countries, Airbnb boasts a community of loyal users.
Airbnb's content is totally focused on people—on the people who own places listed and the travelers who go there. No wonder Airbnb has an entire page on their website dedicated to stories. This doesn’t only prove the importance of stories to the Airbnb branding but also shows that they are the ones who make those stories possible.
Long story short: There is a possibility for the each of us—as long as we persevere, and wear Nikes.
Nike’s mission is to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world. What defines an athlete? “If you have a body, you are an athlete,” says Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman.
Nike is perhaps the #1 brand who consciously work with stories. Generally, every Nike brand story is based on a good-old hero archetype. They’ve been doing so since the late 90s when Michael Jordan was their spokesperson.
The most common story of a hero is that an ordinary human of humble origins challenges an enemy greater than themselves, and despite all, prevails.
But instead of outside villains, Nike knows who all of us really fight with—our inner self, the part of us that wants to procrastinate instead of working out. It’s something that doesn’t depend on the context and hits a strong emotional pain point for us.
That’s where Nike says—Just do it. Even when you’re tired and don’t want to. Even when it’s hard. Just do it.
This pattern is universal and can be applied to a wide range of products and services. As long as there are a clearly identified enemy and a clearly identified hero, the emotional brand storytelling can begin.
Long story short: Apple makes technology so simple that everyone can be part of the future.
This list couldn’t be completed without Apple. Apple is a perfect example of how a brand can turn brand love into power and become a legend. Apple created a cult-like following that motivates thousands of people to flock to Apple stores around the world for every new Apple launch. How did they manage to do that?
Every brand needs a Big Idea to gain a foothold in the minds of consumers. Apple brand promise is to be on the side of consumers and make things so simple and intuitive so that everyone can feel comfortable and do more and get more from their devices.
Steve Jobs said many times, "You have to start with the consumer experience and work back toward the technology, not the other way around.” The whole Apple organization culture is based on this value: technology doesn’t have to be frustrating. Simplicity aligns all the Apple product innovation.
Apple can tell a great story. And often, Steve Jobs was the one who told those stories. In a certain way, Apple owes Steve Jobs for the success they have.
Steve Jobs followed a few simple steps when introducing new products. He hooked the audience first, and only then introduced the product. He builds suspense. And, the last but not least, Steve Jobs focused stories on customers successfully using Apple products.
Following these values and telling stories about people using their devices, Apple dramatically improved the most important aspects of our experience using technologies and become a legend.
Tips to creating a story
So how to create a brand story? Based on the brand storytelling examples above, following are key tips that brand storytellers use to grab attention, intrigue, engage, and connect with an audience on the emotional level. Here you’ll find some branding fundamentals and fiction writing basics. Use them together for your own content marketing efforts to achieve the result you need.
1. Respect the audience and stay who you are
Honesty and transparency are the new black. You don't like to feel fooled and confused, right? So do others. Even if you make up stories, root them into the ecosystem of your product and brand. Be creative. But not too creative. Stay close to your brand promise.
Don’t wear masks. Among other things, it’s quite expensive.
2. Stay away from sales and marketing stuff /or/ Forget about sales. And marketing
Make your brand stories sound natural. If you aren’t sure you can come up with a fiction story looked believable, pick a story based on the real life. Conduct a research. Maybe, someone from your audience has a great story to tell. Real stories will protect from straightforward sales.
3. Create characters your audience will root for
To share a brand story, you need someone to tell it. There are a few typical approaches to creating characters. For example, you can make up fictional characters, brand mascots, involve buyer personas, employees and tell stories from their perspectives. But in general, there are no strict rules.
The important thing is to create characters that your audience will cheer and root for. Enable your audience to connect emotionally to them so that the audience will want to follow their character actions and behavior.
4. Include a beginning, middle, and end
Usually, fiction stories have a structure that includes a beginning, a middle, and an end. Of course, there are examples of untypical structures. But be careful: not always the audience can get them. Not because they can not. But because they are in a different context. Some experiments are better to leave for fiction authors.
So in the beginning, establish your story setting and introduce the characters to the audience. In the middle of the story set up your character's problem (remember: one problem per story) and show conflicts that get on the way before the character can find resolution in the end.
In a nutshell, make your stories linear and express a clear narrative.
5. One story is not enough
Great novels are built from small parts. Make sure your brand stories are page turners and can create more space for other content and social media marketing activities. Surround your audience with various brand experiences and give them an opportunity to select how they want to interact with your brand and enjoy your brand story.
6. And the last, but not least. Do not be afraid to tell about failures
There is a thought that consuming too many success stories can be bad for mental health. When you’re surrounded by high-achievers and everything around looks awesome, it’s an easy-peasy to feel miserable.
Don’t get me wrong, it doesn't mean you should spread total sadness to make everyone happy. Things don’t work in the opposite direction. Tell the whole story, describe how it was, and tell how did you or your character manage to get out of there. Or, if not, what you or your character have understood and what lessons were taken. Just be honest.
Here are some key takeaways on how to tell a great story for those who don’t like long-reads:
- Develop content that has a human element.
- Be sincere, don’t communicate like a salesperson.
- Ask yourself if you would be interested in reading/watching it. And answer honestly.
- Stories have heroes and characters with unfulfilled desires.
- Follow the KISS approach, a brilliant story can be described in one line.
In his book, ‘Decoded: The Science Behind Why We Buy’, Phil Barden reveals what decision science explains about people’s purchase behavior and specifically demonstrates its value to marketing.
The main point is that while we believe we take a decision rationally, it is influenced by our emotions. Emotions must be the heart of the brand strategy to bring a more 'human' approach to the world of web design. If your audience connects with your story on an emotional level, they’ll want to be a part of it. And that is the whole point of storytelling.
So how about you? What do you think about storytelling? Or, perhaps, you have some case studies to show? Please, feel free to comment and share your experience. I would love to hear your thoughts.
P. S. By the way, Pixar has launched an awesome course The Art of Storytelling through Khan Academy. Check it out if you want to find out more on how to create memorable characters and develop catchy stories. And, of course, I'll be glad if you share some information about other cool online-courses related to storytelling.